Episode summary:

Susan talks with Dr. Michael Gurian about brain development, differences in male/ female brains, and many more fascinating insights about some of the elements that contribute to our children’s behavior.

Dr. Michael Gurian is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-eight books including The Wonder of BoysThe Wonder of GirlsBoys and Girls Learn Differently, and The Minds of Boys. Dr. Gurian has spoken for the United Nations on violence against women; provided information on boys’ and girls’ educational needs to the White House; and briefed Members of the 114th Congress on the boy crisis in America. He is the co-founder of the Gurian Institute, which is committed to helping boys and girls reach their full potential by providing professional development that increases student achievement, teacher effectiveness, and parent involvement. www.gurianinstitute.com

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

  • Fascinating information about how children’s brains develop
  • Brain-based insights on why differences between male and female development
  • How girls and boys differ in connecting

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Read the entire episode!
Transcript here:

Speaker 1: (00:10)
Hey everyone, it’s Susan Stefan, walking to the parenting about power struggles podcast. I am here to share with you insight, guidance, support, and inspiration on everything about parenting, whether your children are toddlers or they’re young adults. And today we’re gonna really dive into something fascinating because I have one of my favorite people here, Dr. Michael Korean. Hi Michael. Hey. Hi Susan. Thanks for having me. Yeah, so I’m Michael and I have, um, traveled the path together a few times in some of our summits. And then most recently we did an amazing class on parenting with the brain in mind. Michael, I know for you that was just, you know, a regular day, but for my assistant and I, we were like, our heads were exploding because there was so much amazing information and like, Oh shit, I don’t know if that’s good at people’s heads are exploding, but I understand, but you know, you know what you’re talking about.

Speaker 1: (01:11)
And my goal for this podcast, and I do hope people will spread the word. This is, you know, we’re just getting started. We’re just starting to roll out wonderful episodes with people. But the goal is to really offer very short, um, sweet action packed information that people can walk away with, that parents can take and use in their, in their daily lives. So, um, you know, I’ve written parenting with that power circles on parenting with presence. And you’ve written about 5,000 books. Well not that way. 32. Yeah. Um, I’ve been a teacher and a therapist for 40 plus years. I think your path has been somewhat similar. You’re a psychologist and you’ve been working kind of other frontline. Yeah. Well let’s see, 30 years. Yeah. As a therapist. Yeah. So, um, one of the things I wanted to do in this little time we have together is talk about the brain because when my practice is a therapist, I see how frustrated parents get with their kids.

Speaker 1: (02:13)
Um, why can’t you be like your sister? Why do you have to move around all the time? Why can’t you focus and pay attention? Why do you have to be so disruptive? And I know that in every aspect of my life, when I better understand what’s going on in someone’s wiring of that might make it likely that they would behave in the ways that they do. It softens me. It makes it easier for me to be accepting and it makes, it makes me more effective in actually making some shifts if they’re needed, when I’m not as triggered or taking someone’s behavior as personally because I’m seeing it through the lens of their, of their brains. So does that make sense to you? Oh yeah, absolutely. And I’m a parent as well, so I totally get what you’re saying. So in our, in our class, our masterclass, the one that we taught together, we ha we went in depth into the brain and what I thought we could do here, just to give people something, um, to work with and to think about would be to just go over a few of the elements of the brain that contribute to how a child behaves, interacts, attaches, you know, empathy, impulsivity.

Speaker 1: (03:22)
Um, so do you want to start just kind of a cliff notes with the, you know, maybe starting with the brainstem, the Sarah Element, and just highlight a few of the functions in the areas of the brain that might help parents understand better what’s going on with your kids?

Speaker 2: (03:39)
Okay. Yeah. Uh, so brainstem being at the bottom, of course that connects the brain to the body. And an interesting fact is males have more spinal fluid in the brainstem than females. So that’s sort of interesting. One of the reasons that males are so much more physical in the, in what they do and how they respond to emotions, right? A lot of the electricity actually is more of, it’s going down for them into the body then for females. So then you move up the brainstem and right above there as the cerebellum, cerebellum is the doing center of the brain. Um, if, if a, if a limb is going to move, you know, if something’s going to move, it’s probably gonna blood flow. We’ll have to go through the cerebellum for that and I’m moving up, you know, then we’re moving into the Olympic and Paralympic system.

Speaker 1: (04:26)
Yeah. Now when you’re talking about the Cerebellum, I know that there’s a difference isn’t there, between boys and girls?

Speaker 2: (04:32)
Oh yeah. The male Sarah Bell, I’m much more active than female. More blood flow through it. Uh, another reason that that boys do so much, they’re just so doing, you know, um, doesn’t mean they can’t sit still and read a book of course. But if you, if you look in the aggregate and you average out how much time in a day, um, you know, a male spends versus females trying to move around or fidgeting or moving around, you know, you’ve got the cerebellum is a big part of that. And it’s also one of the reasons that males actually in their thinking process as we move up the brain, they think about doing more too, because it is so active. So as they’re thinking something through, they may be more physical in thinking it through, you know, so pacing, moving around, et cetera. Um, so yeah, that’s a great point.

Speaker 2: (05:18)
Uh, we’ll move up, let’s say, into the limbic system and we have, we have a mic Dilla there. We have hippocampus. Um, thalamus. We have these many parts of the brain, a lot of which are about since Sorial detail and about emotive detail. So emotions, senses. Um, the Amygdala is fight or flight. It’s anger or aggression. I mean, a lot of that happens there and, um, uh, actually the male and make Dallas a little bit larger than the female and the way that males and females process their emotions, females tend to have more blood flow on the worry side of the Amygdala. And males tend to have more on the anger of the Amygdala. Um, uh, so, you know, and that’s something that will, that people will resonate with probably, especially women who think, Oh God, I think about everything. You know. Um, not that men don’t do that, but you know, on average, you see man trying to sort of push it out of them, expel the emotion through her, you know, and expel it out.

Speaker 2: (06:16)
Um, uh, and then moving, moving over. You know, when we look at the hippocampus, the female hiccup, hippo campus is actually larger than the male and busier. Um, females remember more on average, remember more emotive details, the details of how things looked and felt at a given time. And they tend to remember long series, longer series of that over period of years, events that, that are similar to other events, emotions that are similar, other emotions like in their conflicts with spouses. A lot of that’s because that’s that hippocampus, their memory center is so active and it takes in and remembers so much a emotive detail and since Sorial detailed together, um, yeah,

Speaker 1: (06:58)
well as you right there, because you know, in the class that we did together, one of the things that I loved you empathy that you emphasize was that this is very solid research based because you were talking about how when you write and speak around the world and share articles and, and all the things that you do, that there are a small minority of parents of people who will say, well, you’re stereotyping men and women and I’d love for you to speak to that. So that whoever’s listening doesn’t get bent out of shape as they hear you talking about the distinctions and differences between the male and female. Very, yeah.

Speaker 2: (07:31)
There’s a difference between biological tendencies, which, uh, which we can show through brain scans, through hormonal research, through, you know, all the nature based research and science, agender science at. There’s a difference between that and stereotypes. And so when, so stereotypes or are something that people impose, uh, you know, a culture can impose him. A subgroup can impose these stereotypes on anyone racial or, or, or physical or, or, um, uh, you know, around sex and gender. But stereotypes are not backed up by science. And what we’re talking about here is backed up by science. So our culture too much uses the word stereotypes. Unfortunately, everything, anytime. Like if I, if I go somewhere and I’ll say something like what I just said, most people will go, you know, okay, that makes such sense. Right? Couldn’t, they were intuitive experiences. It makes sense. And then they’ll say, oh, it’s how great the science backs that up. But there’ll be someone who will say, but if you talk about male, female like this, you’re stereotyping. And then I’ll have to say, no, no, that’s just like a, like a Facebook concept or a Twitter concept. You’re not stereotyping if you’re talking about science and backing it up with your reviewed science. So that’s the difference. Yeah.

Speaker 1: (08:43)
Because I know in my experience as a female that I do remember details and nuances and little minutia around a situation that my husband just, he just doesn’t, he just, it he didn’t register it the way that I did. And I think, um, what you’re saying and what we’ve talked about in the past really supports that idea that, um, that the hippocampus is more active in my brain and it’s picking up more, right?

Speaker 2: (09:14)
Yeah. Especially for, since Sorial any motive detail, you know, males remember, uh, like for instance, meals outperformed females in remembering things like trivia, what we call trivia storage, where they, they’ll, uh, they’ll bond with and there’s any motive reason for this. They’ll bond with a team. For instance, the Red Sox, let’s say. Um, and they bond with that team very early in life. And they, that, that, uh, the information about that goes into sort of a gray matter area in the brain and then it links to the hippocampus. And so they just, they just store everything about the red sox and they, oh, they can tell you who hit what at what time. So that’s, that’s where males are actually outperform. But that’s not, that’s not actually motive detail. Right. Females outperform, um, when they are linking emotive instance soil detail with memory. And that’s why females remember these situations and the facial cues and all of that, uh, on average better than males.

Speaker 1: (10:11)
Awesome. Okay. Thank you. Thanks for that little diversion. We can care. Yeah.

Speaker 2: (10:16)
Okay. Yeah. And then there’s, so there’s the Thalamus, the hypothalamus, so we’re still kind of in the midbrain and, and, um, that’s very, very important because, uh, hormones, which, you know, neurochemistry, what really makes your brain go, all that neuro transmission, that, that’s all kind of happening through there on, and also on an access that we call the hypothalamic pituitary, gonadal or hypothalamic pituitary ovarian axis. And, um, and that kind of straight line up and down the body, you know, between the, let’s say the brain and the reproductive organs that create your hormones. That’s I’m a huge, huge, huge deal. And when you were saying at the beginning about, you know, my kid does such and such, why does my kid do such and such? Well often we don’t realize that that uh, are we sensitive and don’t know that a lot of this is hormonal, but it’s more than hormonal. It’s hormones triggering neurochemistry and um, uh, so our child does something like takes a risk, does something, quote unquote stupid, you know, whatever it is. And we will, why? Well, a lot of it is the hormones in the brain intersecting and the way that they intersect is, is in that midbrain. Does that make sense?

Speaker 1: (11:28)
Yes. Yes. So like, yeah, and I don’t want to talk more about that, about this thing with boys and girls in the, I love the thing you talked about a ball in motion and aggressive, healthy aggression versus violence. When we look at the differences in behavior and boys and girls.

Speaker 2: (11:43)
Okay. Yeah. And that’s a big one. So a lot of in the limbic system of, of girls, you know, a lot of what they’re doing. Um, it’s not as linked to bell and it’s not as linked to brain stem. It’s not as linked to being physical. So let’s say an affection, you know, uh, that, that emotion wanting to show love and affection. So as all that’s processing through the female brain, girls will tend to use more words because they connect more of the limbic system up to the word centers at the top of the brain than boys do. And they’ll tend to do less, less physical motion, let’s say. Then boys, whereas boys, they’ll use words of course, but often they’ll use words that you know, are shorter bursts of words and then they’ll like jump on someone and wrestle with that person. You know, there’ll be more physical in showing the affection.

Speaker 2: (12:31)
And, and that’s pretty, you know, that’s robust worldwide. I mean, everything I’m talking about here is multicultural. So it comes in on the x and the y chromosome. That’s how these brains gets set up. Uh, the way they get set up. And so, so yeah, you tend to find meals using more aggression, nurturance where they nurture each other through aggression, like wrestling or like throwing objects through space, like hitting each other with laser, you know, uh, live a glazer pong laser tag, et Cetera, all of that stuff. Whereas females tend to use more words, they tend to use more sauce in soils, like combing someone else’s here or trying on clothes with someone else. Um, uh, loving the color of that, loving the intimacy of that, you know, uh, but it’s less burst physical, you know, so the objects moving through space. So that’s definitely a difference between males and females. And that is happening there, uh, in the midbrain. Okay.

Speaker 1: (13:22)
And doesn’t that tie in with empathy to even the way that moms and dads parent, um, and the way that, you know, girls versus boys, um, exhibit and experience the whole Pr, you know, firing a mirror neurons and all of that?

Speaker 2: (13:36)
Can you just, yeah, yeah. Mirror neurons. Empathy is, you know, empathy is, of course on everyone’s mind. All of us as parents care about that. And, and a good thing for us to understand is, is how many different ways there are to show empathy. And that empathy isn’t just about and studying the male and the female brain is what taught me this. That empathy isn’t, isn’t just about saying I’m, I’m so sorry. Are you okay? Okay. So that’s a really great thing. There’s no doubt. That’s a great thing. Um, but that’s not the only way of, of having empathy. And I’m showing up at the end sometimes. Um, actually I, I mean, people will say, are you crazy? But sometimes like stoicism is empathic. Stoicism meaning, uh, you’re, you’re okay. Okay. You’re all right. You’re all right. Get back up. You’re okay. And let me give you an example of that.

Speaker 2: (14:24)
Uh, so that people don’t think I’m nuts. Um, so you know, the kids playing street hockey and there it’s 10 to 12 year old girls and boys. They’re playing street hockey. They have the two nets set up. They are on their roller blades. A and 11 year old boy falls down. You know, he kind of skins his elbow. A girl comes right over who’s right nearby, comes right over, uh, and guests, guests down at his level says, are you okay? Touches him. Are you okay? Wants to give him a hug, you know, wants to take care of the wound, et cetera. Right? Which is a, which is a beautiful way of doing empathy. What happens in her brain, female brain, is she gets these mirror neurons in this part of the midbrain called the insula, and they get filled up with mirror neurons and they last a really long time.

Speaker 2: (15:06)
So, so her brain feels his pain and sees his pain and keeps wanting to tend, it is the pretend and befriend instinct, we call it in females. So, so, um, so meals have that too. Of course. Just like females have fight or flight, but, but males, um, especially if they’re in that game, they’re gonna, you know, this other guy comes by and he looks at this 11 year old boy who fell down his skin, his arm a bit and says, come on, come on, get up, get up. We need you. And, and the boy gets back up. And that’s really in a primal example of how you have empathy, nurturance and aggression, nurturance. They’re both equally good nurturance. And in the boy’s case, he was more stoic. He wasn’t involving themselves in the, in the fall and kids’ emotions because his mirror neurons filled up for a second and then he looked and he saw the kids fine and then his mirror neurons die off. But for her they lasted longer. And that’s, that’s all happening right there in the insula.

Speaker 1: (16:04)
But this is so cool. I mean this is what happened in the class we taught. I just felt like, can we please have six more hours because I’m fascinated by the brain to begin with and you’re just a fountain of Wisdom. And I have to remember that everyone, this is like 15 or 20 minute episodes. So you know, there’s more, there’s so much more. I want to talk about neurotoxins and impulsivity and focus and attention. So I’m no doubt we will circle back around to, to carry on the conversation. But I think that you’ve given people so much just to start with to think about the judgments that we have of one another and of our children and our partners based on thinking they, that they should be operating the way we are if we’re a different, um, set up differently. Um, any, anything you kind of want to say by way of wrapping that up and then of course I want people to know more about your work and I’ll, I’ll share some ideas at the end for carrying this forward.

Speaker 2: (16:57)
Yeah. Well, first of all, congratulations to you on this podcast and, and, uh, I love podcasting and I also have one and I just think it’s great. So congratulations and Godspeed on this. Um, and uh, yeah, in terms of wrapping up, I guess what I would, what I would say is that, that, uh, uh, we, we were at a point, I think in our human history when, when we can fully understand, because of science, we can fully understand, uh, you know, as fully as one mind can do it, what is going on in our kids’ brains. Um, we’re not going to understand it at every moment and, and there will be new mysteries that emerged with every generation of scientists of course, but you know, this is working. We’re getting it. So I think the brain based approach is actually a really good approach because it’s science driven, it’s data and it stays out of stereotypes. Uh, and it’s intuitive. I think it’s intuitive for most people. Um, and it just means we’d have to stop with the idea that, okay, if you talk about a group like boys or girls or men or women, that in some way you’re doing harm, uh, that, that is not true. It’s actually just the opposite. This is a great way to understand kids.

Speaker 1: (18:12)
Oh my gosh. Michael. Thank you. So everyone, my guest is Michael Gerber. Ian, he’s written 8,000 books. Um, oh, just went up. It was five before. Anyway, 32 birds speaks and you have a, don’t you have a training? I don’t know when this episode will air, but I know that you have a a summer training that you have with the Green Institute as well as you speak all over the country or the world on all of these related talk topic.

Speaker 2: (18:43)
Yeah. Um, yes I do. I, I’m always am really glad to be invited to schools and conferences so, so that’s uh, you know, I just love that. Um, and uh, we have the green institute so we have trainers who go out and we have our summer and winter institutes. Summer is in June, winter is in January. And then, um, I have a six hour parenting online course. It’s also on green and is to.com and it’s six hours of what I was just talking about with strategies. So that’s great. And everything about us is on Korean institute.com.

Speaker 1: (19:13)
Great. Thank you. So everybody, we’re going to wrap it up. Thank you so much for listening. I learned so much from my guess. This is no kind of, one of the reasons I want to do this is because I just have such fun and I’m so stimulated and enriched by the conversations with, with the guests that we have and we have such amazing people as part of this, uh, series, we’ve got Jane Goodall and uh, Dan Siegel and Glennon Doyle and oh gosh. I think coming up we’re going to have a let us more upset and oh wow. We have, who am I forgetting? Susan Kaiser, Greenland and Oh yeah. Just a host of wonderful people who, who are going to weigh in and offer support to parents. So I hope that you’ll subscribe. It would be a huge, huge help if you would leave a review or tell a friend about the podcast.

Speaker 1: (20:05)
If you have a question that you’d like me to answer because I’m going to be addressing questions on the podcast. That page is Susan stifelman.com/podcast um, when you subscribed, by the way, I just think this is so amazing. You magically discover a new episode on your phone. You’re listening to us, so that’s pretty great. Um, my website has lots more about my parenting work and I have a monthly membership program that provides a lot of support to parents that you can find out about. So let’s close with a tip, Michael, in terms of what people can take away. I always want people to have something very practical to think about. What would you like that to be, you know, related maybe to how they view their child in the week ahead.

Speaker 2: (20:46)
MMM, okay. I’m gonna pick a, if your child is to do well in the interest of building resilience in kids, which I think is one of our most important jobs. If your child is doing something, uh, or experiencing something from someone else that isn’t putting your child in danger, um, and not putting another child in danger, then my tip is let it happen and see what it does because that’s how the brain grows. It grows through experience rather than having experienced, stopped by someone. Like, don’t do that. You know, it grows through experience. So if, if a child is not in danger, that would include moral danger. Um, or if the child is not putting anyone else in danger. That’s the tip. Let it happen. Watch it happen. Be a scientist and see what is gained from it.

Speaker 1: (21:38)
I love that you don’t, you talk about us being citizens cyclist.

Speaker 2: (21:42)
Yeah, that’s my job. I always want to help parents be citizen scientists.

Speaker 1: (21:46)
Well, thanks. If you guys have enjoyed this, you know, again, tell a friend and, and Michael and I have a class that’s on my website. If you like to go deeper into this topic, it was just filled with great information. Meanwhile, everybody, thanks for tuning in. Remember that no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of joy and have fun and I’ll see you next time. Thank you,

Speaker 2: (22:09)
you Michael. Thank you, Susan. [inaudible].

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